With Japan now on everyone’s lips as the host country for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and with our own Springboks through to the finals – go Bokke, go! – we thought Erika Dignas’ recent visit to the home of the Brave Blossoms to be an appropriate topic. The Japanese people’s love for rugby certainly impressed her. And yes, she did indeed visit Yokohama where she witnessed the game between the Irish and the Scots … and where the grand finale is scheduled to take place this weekend. But what follows is her account of a much wider range of experiences.
Japan, the land of the rising sun, cherry blossoms and matcha tea … What started as a childhood dream of my youngest daughter soon became a dream of my own: to visit Japan. After two years of serious saving the dream finally came true. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined how much Japan would change my life and my mindset. I fell head over heels in love with Japan, the people and the culture.
The first destination will be my favourite place forever. From the moment I put my feet down in Tokyo, everything was different: new sights, smells, tastes, sounds, textures and beautiful people. This is a city between old and modern. I went to a public onsen, a unique treat which although totally new to me, was relaxing as well as refreshing to body and soul.
I visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building with its breathtaking views, then on to the iconic Tsukiji Outer Fish Market, the Senso-Ji Temple, Akihabara (Japan’s electric town), the Tokyo Imperial Palace, Nijubashi Bridge and the Imperial Palace Gardens. I also viewed the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya, the Hachiko Statue, the Sumo and Samurai Museums and enjoyed a night out in Golden Gai, singing karaoke!
More highlights were Harajuku, Tokyo’s fashion district, the Shibuya Crossing – the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world – the incredible Robot Show and a lesson
from a sushi chef to make my own sushi.
In this small coastal town I visited the Kotoku-in Temple, Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuka Shrine and saw the Big Buddha. It was refreshing getting away from the buzz of the city for a while and taking about a million steps.
Hiking along the Old Tokaido, visiting the famous Floating Torii and taking a pirate ship across Lake Ashi’s clear water all added to the exotic adventure. In the evening I soaked in the sulphuric waters and bathed in a private onsen after which I donned my yukata and did a sake tasting.
Travelling to Kyoto was my first trip on a bullet train and how amazing! I then attended a geisha performance and had a tea ceremony on my birthday. This sacred ceremony took me to the perfect moment and place, something one will only experience once in a lifetime. Eating the sweet cookies, drinking the bitter tea, and holding the cup with both hands, drinking all the tea at once, cleared my mind – at that moment my life made perfect sense.
The next day, I did a boat trip down the Hozugawa River, paid a visit to Tenryu-Ji Temple and hiked through Arashiyama’s Bamboo Forest. Later, I had a calligraphy class! Another fantastic experience was visiting a Zen temple and meditating for half an hour. My itinerary also included the Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-Ji and the Imperial Palace.
Here I went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a saddening experience indeed. Then on to Miyajima Island, home to the indigenous deer which are so used to humans that they tried to steal my lunch. Well, one of them succeeded and seemed to enjoy my egg salad!
This city is known as the food capital of Japan and there are amazing restaurants from which to choose. I had the pleasure of lunching in the Shinsaibashi area and also visited the Osaka Castle. Sleeping in a capsule hotel was another first for me.
This was another highlight: experiencing the Japanese people’s love for rugby. I watched the match between Ireland and Scotland with my daughter and what an excitement!
I still have so much to say, there are not enough words to begin with. Japan has the friendliest people on earth. Everything is working; there is such a lot of respect as well as discipline, kindness and safety. I walked many kilometres, drank litres of Pokari Sweat, rushed to various trains, learned how to push myself and to practise mind over matter! I will miss the ramen, sesame ice cream, getting wet in the rain. I had the best experience of my life. I will be back!